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New charter school in Willmar will be turning to area businesses for support, assistance

Tammie Knick, coordinator for the Technical Academies of Minnesota charter school in Willmar, speaks Thursday during an informational meeting in Willmar to discuss the school. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR — Collaboration with area businesses will be a key to the success of a charter school planning to open next fall in Willmar, its organizers said last week.

The public, nonprofit secondary school will be operated by Technical Academies of Minnesota and be located in a building on the MinnWest Technology Campus.

Board members and consultants from Technical Academies of Minnesota spoke at two informational meetings last week to inform the business community about the proposed school and to seek help with funding and equipment.

The school will receive the per-pupil state aid that other public schools receive, but not until after July 1, 2014. The school will be raising funds from a variety of sources including donations from area businesses.

More than 40 people attended the first of the two meetings. They included people from the business community, some public officials and representatives of area public school districts.

The school will be a technical school offering project-based learning for grades 7-12, aimed at helping manufacturers who have difficulty finding skilled employees. The school will try to train students who can step into those jobs.

Tammie Knick, coordinator for the school in Willmar, said Technical Academies of Minnesota chose Willmar because of the demographics. The population has grown since 2000, and it is the seventh-largest non-metro city in the state.

There is no charter school nearby, and this school will provide more choices for students. It may also attract home-schooling families in the area because of the small school setting, she said.

Public meetings for parents and students are expected in the next few months, she said. The school will accept up to 150 students, the maximum number it can have in the space it has available.

Technical Academies of Minnesota is planning to open a school in Owatonna next fall, too.

Doug Thomas, the founder of the New Country charter school in Henderson, said the school will have an open model, and students will work on projects based on their interests. The school will have few formal classes, and teachers will guide students in reaching state academic standards through their projects.

The school will also expand students’ experiences through job shadowing, internships and mentoring with local businesses.

“When you personalize education, it changes a life,” he said.

Consultant Doug Knick said the school would help students turn their dreams into reality.

The school will have up to a dozen licensed teachers, depending on student needs. The school will offer special education services or foreign language classes for students who need them. As a public school, it will not charge tuition and will have no admissions criteria.

Each student will have a personalized learning plan, and schools will be operated by teachers and staff, with a local school board of teachers and parents.

“We need people like you to make this a reality,” Doug Knick said. With state funding not available until July, in-kind contributions will be sought to furnish and equip the school, and the school may hold some community fundraisers.

Dave Baker, owner of The Oaks at Eagle Creek in Willmar, said businesses have been asking for innovation in education, and the proposal is interesting.

However, “my defense mechanism kicks in,” when he hears about the school, because he fears it could have an impact on traditional schools in the area.

 “I don’t want it to come at the expense of other kids,” he said.

Baker was one of the leaders of a recent fundraising campaign to help the Willmar School District put Apple iPad tablet computers into the hands of all Willmar Senior High students. The program started with grades 11 and 12 a year ago and expanded to grades 9 and 10 this fall.

After the meeting, he said the time and effort he put into that project makes him hesitate a bit about supporting the charter. He said he could tell the organizers have already invested a lot of time into the project.

“I wish these guys tremendous success,” he said. “I will keep asking questions.”

Ken Warner, the president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said there’s a lot of curiosity in the community about the school and what it will mean.

The business community is generally supportive of efforts to help education, he said, and it has long wanted to see programs that might convince young people to stay in the area.

“I appreciate them putting themselves out here,” “Warner said. “At the end of the day, it’s got to be for the benefit of the student.”

For more information about the school, go to There is an online form available for anyone interested in supporting the school.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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